Boy dis­fig­ured by chimps in Africa thrives af­ter U.S. surgery

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - LOCAL NEWS - By Michael Balsamo

A Con­golese boy who was se­verely dis­fig­ured in a chim­panzee at­tack is mar­veling doctors with his re­siliency a year af­ter he was brought to New York to un­dergo re­con­struc­tive surgery.

Nine-year-old Du­nia Si­bo­mana was the lone sur­vivor three years ago when chim­panzees at­tacked him and two play­mates near a pre­serve in Congo. His 4-year-old brother and a young cousin died. Du­nia’s face was left a fright­en­ing mask. His lips were ripped off, his cheek was torn apart and he was left with mus­cle dam­age that made it hard to swal­low or com­mu­ni­cate.

In Jan­uary, Du­nia un­der­went a rare surgery at a Long Is­land hos­pi­tal that in­volved graft­ing tis­sue and mus­cle from his fore­arm to recre­ate his lips.

He still has a lot of heal­ing ahead of him, but nearly a year later, Du­nia is thriv­ing with a host fam­ily in Brooklyn. He can once again open and close his mouth, eat and talk nor­mally.

And doctors and his host fam­ily say the boy, who was once self-con­scious, shy and with­drawn, has blos­somed. He has be­come flu­ent in English, learned taek­wondo, soc­cer and surf­ing, and made friends in his new neigh­bor­hood.

“He has a ton of friends. He can’t walk down the street with­out peo­ple stop­ping to give him a high­five,” said his host father, Kim Chaix. “It’s New York City that’s re­ally rais­ing this child.”

Du­nia lives with Chaix, his wife and their 9-yearold daugh­ter Annabelle, who walks to school with Du­nia arm in arm.

On a re­cent af­ter­noon, Du­nia played video games with An­abelle be­fore read­ing the Dr. Seuss clas­sic “The Cat in The Hat.”

“There’s a con­nec­tion be­tween them,” Chaix said of Du­nia and his daugh­ter.

He still has a lot of heal­ing ahead of him, but nearly a year later, Du­nia is thriv­ing with a host fam­ily in Brooklyn. He can once again open and close his mouth, eat and talk nor­mally.

Du­nia af­fec­tion­ately calls Annabelle “Goldie,” af­ter her golden hair. She reads him books at bed­time and makes him snacks.

Du­nia, who hadn’t at­tended school in Congo, is now in sec­ond grade.

“A lot of the so­cial stigma that he came with is now gone,” said Dr. Leon Klemp­ner, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of den­tistry at Stony Brook Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal, who helped bring Du­nia from Congo last Novem­ber with the help of the non­profit foun­da­tion Smile Res­cue Fund for Kids. “He’s got a lot more con­fi­dence now. He doesn’t get the stares that he used to get.”

Dr. Alexan­der Dagum, the hos­pi­tal’s chief of plas­tic and re­con­struc­tive surgery, said he knows of only three other cases in which the same surgery has been per­formed. The hos­pi­tal is cov­er­ing the cost of the surgery, and the doctors have all do­nated their time.

Du­nia has not lost com­plete touch with his home­land. He spends week­ends with a fam­ily from Congo, brush­ing up on his her­itage and na­tive lan­guage of Swahili.

Du­nia’s mother died sev­eral years ago. His father still lives in Congo in an area with­out reg­u­lar ac­cess to phones or in­ter­net, but the two com­mu­ni­cate via videos they record for each other. In­ter­me­di­aries de­liver the record­ings to Du­nia’s father.

Chaix said it’s still un­clear what Du­nia’s fu­ture holds — whether he’ll stay in the U.S. af­ter the school year or go to a board­ing school in Rwanda. Chaix said Du­nia once told him he didn’t ever want to go back to Congo or speak Swahili again, but af­ter spend­ing time with other peo­ple from his home coun­try and buy­ing some tra­di­tional African cloth­ing, he’s “em­braced it.”

“We’ve all grown from this whole ex­pe­ri­ence,” Chaix said.

SETH WENIG — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

In this Nov. 21 photo, Annabelle Chaix, 9, right, plays with a notch in Du­nia Si­bo­mana’s ear at their house in Brooklyn. The notch along with other dis­fig­u­ra­tions were caused by a chim­panzee at­tack. The 9-year-old Con­golese boy who was se­verely dis­fig­ured in a chim­panzee at­tack is mar­veling doctors with his re­siliency a year af­ter un­der­go­ing re­con­struc­tive surgery in New York.

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